Lately, I've been pondering work--my work. What is meaningful? What is not? What have I spent my life doing? What do I want to do? Maybe I'm in a defining moment in my life (life crisis, perhaps). It is, after all, the year of my ten year high school reunion, another year closer to 30, and I'm now a mom, too.
Today, my work consists of staying home with my daughter and writing occasionally--some published, some not. In my work, I don't get paid.
Looking back, I noticed a pattern from as far back as I remember. Before I reached the age to go to kindergarten, I woke up and joined my dad in his work--our family-owned restaurant. We made rolls, cornbread, and salad dressing all from scratch before the sun even came up. As a toddler I worked, freely and without pay (as should), and I loved it. Once I became school-age, I mainly helped my dad by waiting tables on Saturday mornings. I grew relationships with the regulars--particularly a group of three elderly men I liked to call "The Busters" (no idea why). I got tips, of course, but it wasn't a job. I volunteered my time and worked. And again, I loved it. It was meaningful and worth it to me.
In the church where I grew up, I kept the babies in the nursery often and beginning at the young age of eight. I expanded my helping hands to Mothers Morning Out and cooking/serving the Wednesday night dinners before the mid-week service. I grew a love for those babies who most of them just graduated high school, and some college. I grew a friendship with two women sixty years older than me, one who recently passed away. I, also, grew buddy-buddy with our third cook who was of a different ethnicity.
As I matured, I volunteered time at The Ronald McDonald House where I cleaned and hoped to meet grieving families that lived there and put a smile on their face. I served on the board of Youth Leadership Jackson because I believed in the impact that youth could have on the community (and the world). I also joined the board for Junior Miss (a pageant that's not so pageanty) because I loved being with younger girls. Lastly, and most recently, I gave my time to coach the distance runners at my alma mater where I once ran.
I do not mention these things to brag about what I've done, nor to demand that I deserved pay and hope whomever didn't pay me is reading this! No, I write this because I've learned our work does not become valuable by whether or not we receive pay or how much we make. There's been times in recent years where I wonder if I'm not deemed important enough to be offered pay. I ask questions such as:
Do they not see me as a valuable asset to the team enough to pay me to ensure that I stay involved? Do they not pay me because they know I will do the work anyways?
Jen Wilkin once wrote on her blog:
As those whose work is ultimately done for the glory of God, we ask, "How much can I contribute?" before we concern ourselves with "How much will I receive?"
In Courtney Reissig's book, Glory in the Ordinary, she explores two key ways that we misunderstand work (40):
1. Work must be paid to be meaningful.
2. Work must accomplish something great to be meaningful.
She further states that God made us to work as a function of our role as image bearers (40). We were made to work even before the fall (Gen. 2:15). Work is good and meaningful. The fall, however, caused the hardships that come with work (Gen. 3:16-19).
As a kid and teenager, I didn't think twice about working without pay because I enjoyed it. It wasn't until I graduated college where I'm supposed to make something of myself and show how much I'm worth (according to our culture) that I began to struggle with this. But as I look back, I'm incredibly thankful for the memories I have regarding past work to help me cherish my present work--in the home as a wife and mom and with writing.
In giving my time as I did, I created precious memories with my dad. My desire for children began in loving my church family's babies. God allowed me to not regard age, color, or backgrounds in friendships. Moments of laughter bring joy to my heart even now. Mourning with others taught me compassion. Being around younger girls pushed me to pursue discipleship relationships. Being around older women, brought an eagerness to sit with them and learn from them--and so on.
God ordained work. God gave me all opportunities in which I have worked and will work. I pray that I will fight to not see work in relation to pay but in relation to my Father in whom I work for.
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.
Col. 3:23-24 (ESV)
*This is from the point of view of a woman who is married and supported financially by her husband and is not encouraging everyone to work without pay and neglect providing for family.